Television Production, a communications class offered in The Lesley H. and William L. Collins College of Professional Studies (CCPS), is a hands-on experience offering students a glimpse into the inner workings of a fully functional television studio. The Television, Film, and Radio Center on the Queens, NY, campus is used by students to mount productions in all areas of media, and the studio and control rooms are located on the fourth floor of Marillac Hall. In addition to TV production classes, WRED-TV, also known as the Television Club, uses the studio space for its productions.
While still a hub of activity, the Television Center, and the faculty and staff who use it, have adapted their teaching techniques and procedures to promote New York State guidelines regarding social distancing, maximum occupancy, and remote learning. It is a challenge they gratefully accepted to continue their mission of preparing well-trained candidates for an extremely competitive field.
“We follow all of the guidelines set down by the state,” noted Senior Broadcast Engineer Richard Martinez ’01CPS, ’13G. Mr. Martinez is responsible for the smooth operation of the TV Center, maintaining and repairing equipment, and making sure the studio houses the most up-to-date equipment possible to ensure student success.
Some of those guidelines mandate the constant sanitizing of equipment, appointments for the use of equipment, liberally separating desks to accommodate social distancing, and masks being worn by all personnel. Mr. Martinez stressed, “We make it work so the students have what they deserve.” He added that any future upgrades to equipment will be made with an eye toward flexibility.
Brenda M. Laux ’93SVC, Adjunct Professor, Division of Mass Communication, teaches the production class, and she has also gone to great lengths to ensure compliance with all of the mandates while not sacrificing the hands-on experience she provides to her students. Instead of giving one lecture to 18 students, she divides them into groups of six. One group will work in the studio, one in the control room, and one in a remote space.
Prof. Laux lectures each group on a given subject and applies it to the entire production process. These groups rotate each week, so all students have access to the different equipment and gain the skills needed. On days when the weather is compliant, she lectures outdoors to the entire class.
Of course, there are elements of the class that necessitate hands-on demonstration and training, and Prof. Laux applauded Mr. Martinez’s efforts to keep her class running smoothly. For students who cannot attend in person, Mr. Martinez sets up a Zoom meeting that feeds the studio signal to their homes, enabling Prof. Laux to include the students in productions mounted in class, either via their home computers or smartphones. “It is as if their home becomes a remote site for the show we produce,” she said.
Prof. Laux noted that the safety protocols enforced at the Television Center mirror what is happening in the television and film industry today, which adds another layer of preparation her students are receiving in the event of another such occurrence.
“I think it is very important we set a baseline,” Prof. Laux said, adding that students adhere to the rules, not only for the safety of all concerned but so she can provide them with the experience she has always given her classes. “I would rather be here versus trying to do it totally online because using the equipment is such a critical part of what we do. It is to the student’s benefit that they get as much access to the equipment, and to me, as possible.”
Communication Arts major Brooke Mosca recognizes and applauds Prof. Laux’s efforts. “Prof. Laux is hyperaware of all of the protocols; we always clean the equipment after every use, we are socially distant and wear masks, and she encourages us to wear gloves if that makes us more comfortable. She makes sure we get the experience we need.”
Junior Heather Bonsignore, also a Communication Arts major, noted that it took a few weeks to adjust, but now she has become more comfortable with the new routine. “I am grateful that Prof. Laux is willing to come in and teach us. It would be so hard to re-create this experience remotely.”
Television and Film major Jordan Solis said, “I think St. John’s as a whole has done a great job with this situation. I feel safe. They are doing the best they can, and I am having a good time in school again.”